STEVE Clarke last night appealed to Scotland supporters to get firmly behind Oli McBurnie in the Euro 2020 qualifier against Russia at Hampden this evening.

McBurnie was savaged by members of the Tartan Army last month when Sheffield United TV footage which appeared to show the striker making derogatory comments about playing for his country emerged online.

The 23-year-old, who Sheffield signed for a then Scottish record £20m fee from Swansea last month, is asked by his Bramall Lane team mate John Fleck if he is going away on international duty in the film. He replied: “I hope not.”

However, the Leeds-born player, who has failed to score in his seven appearances for his adopted homeland to date, explained his remarks immediately after meeting up with the Scotland squad earlier this week.


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Clarke has limited options up front going into the crucial Group I game – Hearts man Steven Naismith missed training yesterday – and is likely to start with McBurnie in attack this evening.

He is confident the forward, who qualifies to play for Scotland because his father hails from Glasgow, is totally committed to his country and has urged fans not to give him a hard time.

“It was completely clarified within the group,” said Clarke. “And I did it in public so everyone could see the clarification. We could have done it inside, no problem, but it was better to do it outside. Clarified and clear. We have moved on and we urge everyone else to move on from it. Finished, it’s finished.

“If he didn’t want to be here, he wouldn’t be here. That’s the bottom line. He had never worked with me before, he has no reason to say ‘I don’t want to go’ because he didn’t know what it was like. Hopefully now he has been here, after the game you can quiz him and he will tell you he enjoyed it.

“It’s down to Oli, if he is selected, to convince the fans that he is the right option. There is no other way, no simple way around it. He has to convince the fans that he is the right option and I’m sure if he does that, the fans will be right behind him.

“I’m sure the supporters will get right behind the team. If Oli is part of that team then the best thing he can do is go out there, play really well for his country, show everybody how committed he is. And if he wants he could score a goal, that would be nice as well.”


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McBurnie, who netted 24 times for Swansea in the Championship last season, scored his first Premier League goal against Leicester City last month and Clarke believes he could be a potent weapon for Scotland in the future.

“He has physical presence, a willingness to work, his hold-up play is decent and will improve for being at a team like Sheffield United,” he said. “He has already scored in the Premier League in a short space of time in terms of minutes on the pitch. He has good attributes so let’s see if we can help him to make the step up.

“Don’t forget he is a young man learning to make his way in the game. I don’t want you guys (the media) to be going round putting so much pressure on the boy because he is a young boy. You have got to give him time to grow, same as any young player. International level is another step up and hopefully he will grow into the role.

“Any player who is playing in the English Premier League has to improve. Don’t forget he is only three or four games into a Premier League career after 20, 30, 40 games in the Championship. All those guys in the Premier League will improve for the experience. Yes, it’s good for Oli he got that move. Now he has to become a starter for Sheffield United.

“You would think so but it’s also another step up to a different level so maybe he is a little apprehensive about that. We will find out. Within the group I find him quite comfortably, he isn’t cowed because he is surrounded by players he might see as ‘He is a big player.’ He has good confidence off the pitch and it’s up to him to show that on the pitch.”

Clarke continued: “We have to look and try to find as many options as possible up front. Matt Phillips has come into the squad, he has impressed me very much. He is probably more recognised as a right sided attacker at West Bromwich Albion, but he can play striker and has for Scotland before. He is also a strong, physical lad with good qualities.


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“Steven Naismith would give us something a little bit different in that role although he didn’t feel quite right for training this morning so we didn’t risk him. Hopefully he is fit and available for the game for the game, but if not for the game on Monday.”

Clarke could hand Liam Cooper, the Leeds United captain and centre half, his international debut tonight in the absence of both Grant Hanley and Scott McKenna.

“We only have one place to fill in the back five,” he said. “The goalkeeper and three of the back four from the previous games are all here. So we have some kind of continuity there. There’s a chance for someone else to slot in and give me nice problems in the future.

“Liam Cooper is ready, if he is asked to play. He has played loads of games in the English Championship at a really good level, working with a really good coach in Marcelo Bielsa. He has been good within the group and I’ve enjoyed working with him.

“But Mikey Devlin has done really well. David Bates, after a long period out, I’ve been surprised how well he has done. He’s shown he’s kept himself in good condition even though he hasn’t played since the end of last season when he got left out the team at Hamburg.

“We have two left-sided in (Charlie) Mulgrew and Cooper, two right-sided in Bates and Devlin. It’s a lovely balance. But I played two left-sided players together in the last two games. I don’t have a problem with it. I don’t understand why people do.

“It’s the same when people say a right-back can’t play at left-back. Why not? I was right-sided but I played my first season at St Mirren at left-back. You’ve got two feet.”